Thursday, 5 July 2012

Yemen: Enduring Conflicts, Threatened Transition

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Flawed as it is, Yemen’s political settlement avoided a potentially devastating civil war and secured President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation, but now the challenge is to address longstanding political and economic grievances. 

Yemen: Enduring Conflicts, Threatened Transition, a new report from the International Crisis Group, proposes ways for the government to win back society’s confidence, tackle political infighting and distance itself from the leadership and practices of the past. It warns that the democratic transition remains messy and incomplete and that any failure to address the challenges soon will weigh heavily on an already divided and increasingly impoverished society.

“Theoretically, the settlement offers an opportunity to include marginalised groups, reform institutions and address longstanding conflicts through dialogue”, says April Longley Alley, Crisis Group Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula. “That said, the nation so far essentially has witnessed a political game of musical chairs, with one faction of the elite swapping places with the other but remaining at loggerheads. As politicians squabble in Sanaa, urgent national problems await”. 

The political transition, sparked by protests more than eighteen months ago, cracked the regime’s foundations, while making it possible to imagine new rules of the game.  Still, much remains in doubt, notably the scope and direction of change. Key parts of society – the Huthis in the North, the southern Hiraak and some independent youth groups – feel left out. Al-Qaeda and other militants are thriving in a security vacuum, with the army divided and tribal militias still operating in urban areas.

A successful transition requires significant steps from various parties, including: 
  •  In order to improve the security situation, the government needs to restructure the military-security apparatus, while the army should respect the orders of President Hadi and the defence minister; moreover, all forces should return to barracks, as stipulated by the settlement.

  •  In order to improve the political situation, the government should distance itself from Saleh and other divisive elite figures who threw their weight behind the uprising; these individuals, for their part, ought to respect the new president’s authority and step away from the public limelight. The government also should rigorously enforce existing laws, including the civil service law.

  •  In order to build confidence with marginalised groups, the government should immediately take steps to secure the meaningful participation in the forthcoming national dialogue of the Huthis, the Hiraak and independent youth. These could include, inter alia, apologising for injustices committed against the Huthis and the Hiraak, increasing humanitarian aid to displaced people, releasing all political prisoners and beginning to address issues of transitional justice.
International actors need to ensure that the UN continues to lead efforts to support the national dialogue. They must talk to all parties and openly criticise any individual or group that fails to respect their commitments.

“The transition remains on shaky ground”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director. “The only way forward is through national dialogue. But if it is not inclusive or fails to address the political challenges, violence is likely to intensify.  The result would be more instability and a deepened humanitarian crisis”.

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As messy as it has been and unfinished as it remains, Yemen’s transition accomplished two critical goals: avoiding a potentially devastating civil war and securing the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled the impoverished country for over three decades. It also cracked the regime’s foundations, while making it possible to imagine new rules of the game. Still, much remains in doubt, notably the scope and direction of change. The nation essentially has witnessed a political game of musical chairs, one elite faction swapping places with the other but remaining at loggerheads. Important constituencies – northern Huthi, southern Hiraak, some independent youth movements – feel excluded and view the transition agreement with scepticism, if not distain. Al-Qaeda and other militants are taking advantage of a security vacuum. Socio-economic needs remain unmet. The new government must rapidly show tangible progress (security, economic, political) to contain centrifugal forces pulling Yemen apart, while reaching out to stakeholders and preparing the political environment for inclusive national dialogue.
On 23 November 2011, following eleven months of popular protest, Saleh signed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative and an accompanying set of implementation mechanisms. Boiled down to its essentials, the GCC initiative provided the former president domestic immunity from prosecution in return for his stepping down. The UN-backed implementation document added flesh to the bones, providing valuable details on the mechanics and timetable of the transition roadmap.
The agreement outlined a two-phase process. In the first, Saleh delegated powers to his vice president, Abdo Robo Mansour Hadi. Feuding politicians then formed an opposition-led national consensus government with cabinet portfolios split equally between the former ruling party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), and the opposition bloc, the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP). The president established a military committee tasked with reducing tensions and divisions within the armed forces, which had split between pro- and anti-Saleh factions during the uprising. Phase one ended with early presidential elections, on 21 February 2012, in which Hadi was the uncontested, consensus candidate.
In phase two, Hadi and the government are given two years to, among other things, restructure the military-secu­rity apparatus, address issues of transitional justice and launch an inclusive National Dialogue Conference with the goal of revising the constitution before new elections in February 2014. It is a laudatory program, but also plainly an ambitious one. Already the scorecard is mixed, as implementation has fallen short.
Indeed, although much has changed, a considerable amount remains the same. Begin with the most important: the settlement failed to resolve the highly personalised conflict between Saleh and his family on the one hand, and General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, as well as, the powerful al-Ahmar family, on the other. As both camps seek to protect their interests and undermine their rivals, the contours of their struggle have changed but not its fundamental nature or the identity of its protagonists. Likewise, the underlying political economy of corruption has remained virtually untouched. The same families retain control of most of the country’s resources while relying on patronage networks and dominating decision-making in the government, military and political parties.
For frustrated independent activists, the struggle at the top amounts to little more than a political see-saw between two camps that have dominated the country for some 33 years, a reshuffling of the political deck that has, at the party level, hurt the GPC and helped the JMP. This has serious policy implications. As politicians squabble in Sanaa, urgent national problems await. Humanitarian conditions have worsened dramatically since the uprising, with hunger and malnutrition levels growing at an alarming rate. A year of political turmoil has resulted in severe shortages of basic commodities; aggravated already high poverty and unemployment rates; and brought economic activity to a virtual halt.
The army is still divided, with warring commanders escaping the president’s full authority. Armed factions and tribal groups loyal to Saleh, Ali Mohsen or the Al-Ahmars remain in the capital; elsewhere the situation is far worse. The government’s writ over the periphery, already tenuous before the uprising, has contracted sharply since. In the North, the Huthis have vastly expanded their territorial control. In the South, the government must contend with challenges from the Hiraak and its affiliated armed groups. Most worrisome is the spread of Ansar Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), a murky mix of al-Qaeda militants and young local recruits, many of whom appear motivated by economic rewards more than by ideological conviction. The government, fighting alongside local popular committees, has recaptured territories in the South, but the battle with al-Qaeda is far from over.
Yet, despite these multiple crises, partisan politics and jockeying for the most part persists in the capital. Encumbered by infighting and lacking capacity, the new government has yet to articulate or put forward a political and economic vision for the transitional period. What is more, it has done too little to bring in long-marginalised groups and is sticking to a largely Sanaa-centric approach. Reformers are concerned that vested interests in both the GPC and JMP are seeking to maintain a highly centralised, corrupt state that favours northern tribal and Islamist leaders, thus further deepening the divide with the rest of the country.
Securing Saleh’s peaceful exit from the presidency was hard enough; implementing the remainder of the agreement will be harder still. Neutralising potential spoilers – competing elites associated with the old regime as well as the divided military/security apparatus – is a priority. This cannot be done too abruptly or in a way that privileges one side over the other, lest it trigger violent resistance from the losing side. Instead, Hadi should gradually remove or rotate powerful commanders in a politically even-handed fashion and end their control over individual army units, while forcing them to demonstrate respect for the military chain of command under the president and defence minister. In like manner, the influence of powerful political parties and interest groups should be diluted in a way that ensures no single one finds itself in a position to dominate the transitional process. Equally important, the national dialogue needs to be broadly inclusive, requiring immediate confidence-building measures and continued outreach efforts toward sidelined groups: the youth, the Huthis and the Hiraak.
Implementation also is suffering from its overall opaqueness. No one – not the government, parliament, or military committee – has publicly kept score so as to shed light on who is violating the agreement and how. Nor has Hadi formed the interpretation committee, even though it is mandated by the agreement, and even though it could usefully settle disputes over the meaning of the initiative and its implementation mechanisms.
The political settlement has numerous flaws. It was an elite compromise that excluded many original protesters as well as marginalised constituencies. It failed to adequately address issues of justice, and it kept in power leaders and parties at least partially responsible for the country’s woes. But, at a minimum, it offers the chance for a different future. If politicians in Sanaa fail to resolve, or at least contain, the ongoing elite confrontation and move forward with an inclusive dialogue, the country risks experiencing further violence and fragmentation. Yemen has long run away from critical decisions. It should run no more.
RECOMMENDATIONS 
To the Yemeni Armed Forces: 
 01.  Respect and fully implement President Hadi’s and the defence minister’s orders, notably regarding military rotations, retirements and appointments, and return all military forces to their barracks as specified by the agreement and by the military committee, unless ordered otherwise by the defence minister.
To Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the al-Ahmar family and allies in Islah:
 02.  Remove all militias from urban areas as well as troops from areas surrounding protest squares as mandated by the initiative and by order of the military council.
In order to improve the political situation

To the Yemeni Government:
03.  Ensure that existing laws, especially the civil service law, are rigorously implemented during the transitional period.
04.  Maintain distance during the transitional period from divisive political figures such as former President Saleh, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and Hamid al-Ahmar.

To all Signatories and Supporters of the GCC Initiative and the Implementation Mechanism:
05.  Implement the agreement and notably the national dialogue without preconditions and halt inflammatory press statements targeting political adversaries.

To President Hadi:
06.  Establish and empower immediately the interpretation committee as mandated by the agreement.
07.  Avoid to the extent possible regionally-based appointments and communicate transparently with relevant stakeholders and the public on issues pertaining to major civilian and military rotations, forced retirements and appointments.

To the General People’s Congress Party (GPC):
08.  Renovate the party, notably by
a) organising internal elections for a new leadership; and
b) reaching out to youth activists and empowering them within its decision-making apparatus.
To the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP):
09.  Minimise the role of divisive figures such as Hamid al-Ahmar and Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar during the transitional period.
10.  In the case of Islah, hold internal elections to renew party leadership, allow new voices to be heard and intensify outreach to other coalition members to ensure broad and adequate consultation on decisions related to the transitional process and notably the national dialogue.

To President Saleh and his family:
11.  Respect and honour Hadi’s orders and presidential authority fully.
12.  Allow GPC internal reform by encouraging Hadi to head the party and acquiescing in Saleh moving to an advisory role.
13.  Support the spirit of the initiative by disengaging from politics and assuming a less prominent role during the transitional period.
To Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and Hamid al-Ahmar:
14.  Support the spirit of the initiative and encourage reconciliation by playing a less prominent role in the transitional period and, in the case of Ali Mohsen, reaffirming unconditional commitment to retire from the military by doing so when Hadi sees fit.
In order to ensure inclusion of marginalised groups

To the Government of Yemen:
15.  Carry out confidence-building measures immediately to ensure meaningful participation in the national dialogue of independent youth groups, Huthis and the Hiraak, possibly to include, inter alia:
a) publicly apologising for injustices committed against the Huthis and the Hiraak;
b) releasing all political prisoners;
c) increasing humanitarian assistance and access to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North and in the Abyan and Aden governorates;
d) establishing and empowering a land dispute committee and/or employment committee in the South to investigate and mediate longstanding grievances; and
e) addressing issues of transitional justice and national reconciliation by investigating acts of violence related to the 2011 uprising and compensating victims, while assuring citizens that these issues will be further debated and discussed during the national dialogue.
To non-signatories who reject the initiative including some independent youth groups,
the Huthis and the Hiraak:
16.  Participate in the preparatory stage of the national dialogue by communicating with and eventually taking part in relevant government-established committees.
17.  Refrain from placing preconditions on the national dialogue and instead present realistic requests aimed at improving the political environment;
In order to maximise international support for Yemen’s transition

To international actors supportive of the GCC Initiative and Implementation Mechanisms (including the UN Special Envoy, Security Council, EU, GCC, IMF, and World Bank, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey and Japan):
18.  Continue to support the Yemeni government’s efforts to implement the agreement with technical, diplomatic and financial assistance and ensure the UN maintains a leading role in facilitating national dialogue.
19.  Avoid the reality or appearance of taking sides in local political disputes, notably by:
a) expressing willingness to talk to all parties;
b) identifying and criticising openly any signatory that fails to honour the agreement; and
c) promoting local oversight of implementation by pressing for establishment of the interpretation committee and encouraging civil society and youth organisations to assume an oversight role.
To the Government of Iran:
20.  Support the UN-sponsored national dialogue to resolve longstanding political challenges in Sadaa and the South and encourage the Huthis and the Hiraak to participate.(ICG)

Read full report from here>>>

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Sunday, 1 July 2012

The monumental challenges awaiting Dr Mohamed Morsi

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The images of jubilant crowds in Tahrir Square following the election of Dr Mohamed Morsi are an understandable reaction; given that this the most open election in the history of modern Egypt.

There can be little doubt that by electing him, the people of Egypt have continued a trend – seen before in Tunisia, Morocco and elsewhere – of voting in candidates who were known for their Islamic background and who had campaigned over many years for Islamic policies and governance. To that extent, this is a welcome sign of support for Islam in the Muslim world.

Dr Morsi would surely have known that his words would appeal to the Islamic people of Egypt when he echoed the first speech of the first Caliph of Islam, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra), in his victory speech when he said, “as long as I obey God in your affairs. If I don’t do so, and I disobey God and I do not adhere to what I promised, you are not obliged to obey me”. He rightly paid tribute to the brave people of Egypt, especially the martyrs, and in doing so reminded us of the heavy weight of expectation on him.

So, at this critical juncture, it is important to look at the challenges awaiting Egypt under its new President. Whilst Dr Morsi mentioned some obvious challenges in his speech – such as needing to unite the population – it is worth considering the following points, which are no small matters:

01.     The new President, unlike his predecessors, has no real power. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] have appointed many powers to themselves, along with allowing the judiciary to dissolve parliament and trying to dominate by influencing the writing of the new constitution.

02.     It must be recognized that a man of upright and moral character is not the same as a state that is just and righteous. Egypt is still the same state, but with a new President; and this new President will find it hard to fulfill his much needed pledge that the ‘revolution will continue until it realises all its objectives’ now that his office has been neutered, and if he works in such a way so as to keep SCAF or America happy.

03.     Dr Morsi restated his desire to be faithful to Islam saying “that I will never betray Allah in your affairs, or disobey Him in the affairs of my nation”. Yet this statement is almost impossible to reconcile with other statements in his speech. For example, to say “we will respect the international treaties and conventions we signed” would be incompatible with obedience and loyalty to Allah if it included the Camp David Accord, as well as some other treaties and conventions.

To really show his loyalty to Allah, His Messenger (saw) and his people, Dr Morsi would have to set Egypt on a path independent of American interests; he would work to absolutely remove the blockade and sanctions on Gaza; he would work to end the disastrous capitalist casino economy and establish a real economy to bring jobs and prosperity; he would free up capital by ending the haemorrhage of wealth by ending debt interest payments; and he would only be satisfied with a real Islamic constitution to bring justice to Egypt.

04.     Slogans such as ‘social justice, freedom and human dignity’ for all citizens would be welcomed by many, as well as promises to ‘establish justice and righteousness’. But the challenge for the Islamic politician is to show how the laws of the Shar’iah, derived from Quran and Sunnah, secure these goals – and do so better than any other system.

The challenge for Dr Morsi is to resist the pressures from Western colonial governments and the secular military leadership, who each serve their own interests, yet who would all portray Islamic government, based on Quran & Sunnah alone, as ‘extremist’. We have seen Islamic politicians in power before, such as in Turkey – which also has a secular army that ensures that Islam is not referred to in government.

What Egypt really needs is the application of the Islamic system of government. The challenge for Dr Morsi is how to make that a reality, so that neither Allah, His Messenger nor the Muslims are betrayed in this matter of ruling.

We pray that Allah guides us and guides Dr Morsi so that he avoids making the same mistakes as his predecessors, in Turkey, Sudan and in Egypt – or indeed for that matter in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where secular constitutions bear the superficial slogans of Islam.

He has laid out the standard by which people will surely hold him to account. If the people whose Islamic sentiments he appealed to in the electoral campaign and victory speech pick up on some of the contradictory messages mentioned so far, they should surely scrutinize his term in office very closely from his first day – as the best traditions of Islam demand. (HTB)